You wouldn’t know from their music that The Blankz (a Phoenix based band) formed as recently as 2017. Their new EP/single, White Baby, is so tightly put together musically that if I had been too lazy to read the group’s bio, I would just have assumed they must have been playing together for at least a decade. Their music falls somewhere within the realm of “weirdo pop punk.” It has a very 90′s vibe to it, not in a gimmicky kind of way, it’s just that you’d almost have to go back that far to find this style of music being put out at this level of quality. In a deeper sense though, White Baby brings people back to a more innocent era, the pre-9/11 days before confrontational politics and war dominated the discussion in our everyday lives. I’m talking about those 105 degree summer nights spent skateboarding and loitering at suburban Phoenix strip malls (yes I’m from here as well,) when our most heated arguments were over bands and girls. Our tense confrontations were mostly reserved for our interactions with the security guards about to kick us out of the same spot for the millionth time.
White Baby features solid playing, quirky lyrics, and perhaps most importantly…substance. Yes, wrapped up in White Baby’s musical bundle of joy is a theme about the songwriter’s identity. Tommy Blank is white but was apparently adopted into a Mexican family. The song subtly relates his struggles with identity growing up within this unconventional familial arrangement. It is all presented in an upbeat, fun and energetic musical context. The lyrics are extremely catchy, and if you listen to this song even once, the chorus will stick with you. The video for White Baby takes on a kind of desert rockabilly aesthetic, interspersing vintage home movie footage with present day shots of the band around town.
There is a second jam on this release as well. The song Sissy Glue boasts some killer synth, the vibrato of which resonates throughout the song. The tone is reminiscent of action oriented battle music in old school games like Double Dragon. Sissy Glue contains lyrics concerned with huffing, but really the track is about so much more. It’s sort of a coming of age story told in a very creative way. The synth on this EP is notable because it is what separates the band’s sound it from so many other bands in this genre.
White Baby/Sissy Glue is quite simply, badass. Living in Phoenix, this is easily one of the coolest current bands in the valley, and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard anything about them until now.
What a sparkly little synth hook this jam has! It’s as if someone threw something together really quick, chucked it at a wall and it bounced in my direction and stuck in my head like a superball to the brain. Basically, this track is the little orphan Annie of hidden indie pop hits. King Trode’s Space Parachute is exactly what it would sound like if you took Sega Genesis video game music and added vocals that sounded eerily similar in style to those of Dal Winslow of The Trashmen singing the 60′s classic, Surfin Bird (aka “The Bird is the Word” song.) Yes, Space Parachute is awesome all right. With a decent video, there would be some real potential here.
Singer/songwriter Ezra Jordan’s latest single 10 Miles a Minute almost defies categorization. It has elements of indie pop, funk, mainstream pop, soul, with the background music at times giving the song an almost Caribbean, tropical vibe. Jordan’s clearly a skilled vocalist, with his voice demonstrating some impressive dynamicism at certain points of the track. In spite of the song’s title, the music starts off at a slow pace but builds into a funky and energetic little dance number. This is a respectable recording with a solid vocal performance. I’m most impressed with how well the song is put together. There are a lot of musical components to it which are delicately placed in the mix. This song is a complicated piece of musical machinery, and somehow nothing seems out of place.
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but they never said anything about albums. When I saw the aesthetic artwork for Grayson Erhard’s new EP, Earthship I already had a good feeling about the music. It’s pretty straightforward indie folk / alternative but very well performed and produced professionally. This is not lo-fi coffee house music. It’s interesting that the EP is titled Earthship as the music itself has an earthy quality to it, like the artist is in tune with nature (which could be explained by his growing up in a small Colorado town.) The video for his song I Will was filmed on location at Great Sand Dunes National Park. What’s memorable about his style is that his songs often start out mellow, to where you think they will be quiet, with soft spoken vocals and acoustic strumming for the duration, and then everything slowly builds and kicks into high gear, both emotionally and musically, where it all rocks hard.
Rising popstar “Summy” (aka Summer Ferguson) has all the ingredients to reach the next level. She’s pretty, has a great voice, use a catchy one word name as a moniker, all of which she combines with some very well produced pop music. This girl is just oozing with star quality and has more substance to offer than most artists currently on the radio. Summy’s new single Sus differentiates itself in a subtle, yet brilliant way. Summy’s lead vocals come through crystal clear, without being hampered or drowned out by annoying effects processing. The effects are instead applied to background and “side vocals,” which in effect act an additional synth instrument.
Summy’s versatile voice carries the song well with impeccable timing. This song also has a seductive quality and is filled with jealousy and sexual intrigue. People will connect with this jam, and Summer Ferguson is going places. Forget voting for Pedro. Vote for Summy, and it will be summer all year round.
Skytrain to Nowhere is an imagination driven and esoteric volume of free-form poetry. The book documents the author’s experiences, thoughts and observations while riding the skytrain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the period of several weeks. Since the skytrain is only designed to transport travelers between various terminals and parking facilities at the airport, someone spending nearly 50 hours riding it purely for recreation and artistic inspirational purposes is highly unusual (to put it mildly.) Aside from occasional quirky anecdotes about various passengers, the poems mostly deal with themes of motion, the passage of time, and nostalgia. The author grapples with these issues from a retro-futurist perspective. Skytrain to Nowhere celebrates the realization that our vitality hinges on our ability to always keep moving, while recognizing we are unwilling or unable to leave some things behind on the journey.
DJ Ice Creme’s new electronic music jam Cotton Candy really hits the spot. No, but seriously this is awesome. In the 90′s people used the term “candy raver” (or “kandi raver”) to describe a certain type of raver who wore kids’ backpacks, bright multi-colored bracelets and just gave off the vibe of friendship and childhood innocence. Now, I won’t say that Ice Creme’s music is any kind of direct throwback to that culture, but Cotton Candy definitely has a retro feel to it and abstractly recaptures much of the aesthetic from the early 90′s. Vocal effects and sample wise, it actually reminded me of early techno cassette tapes I owned in 1993 (if you were to replace the standard old school techno beat with something…well like this.) The best way to describe the unique sound of Cotton Candy is that it’s like someone mixed circus music, sounds of people being at the circus, and EDM. It is all very artfully done, and the end result is one of the coolest pieces of dance music I’ve ever heard.
Natalie Lucassian’s new EP, 12:26 is light years ahead of most indie albums in terms of quality and artistry. Natalie’s sound has been described as “Amy Winehouse reincarnated as Adele’s indie rock little sister.” However, I don’t think that characterization does her enough justice. Her music seems refreshingly original. In fact, I like it more than the music of either of those other two artists. Natalie has a natural voice for emotive indie rock but is a more talented singer than most indie artists, whom tend to substitute authenticity for technical ability. Natalie Lucassian represents the best of both worlds.
Restless is a brooding track with psychedelic undertones and a light beat that’s slow enough to chill out to but peppy enough that you could dance to if you felt like it. 12:26 is a tad more upbeat and rocking. It’s my favorite song on the album and stylistically reminds me a bit of the music of a band called Magic Wands.
All in all, this EP punches above its weight class, and I can’t think of anything negative to say about it. 12:26 is awesomely haunting.
Having done thousands of music reviews over the years, I have discovered a lot of interesting or good music, but not too much of it stands out. I have to say though that country artist Ranzel X Kendrick’s new album, Texas Sagebrush is exceptional. The first track Any Ole’ Song, should leave no doubt to the listener that this guy’s music is right up there with the country legends. This shouldn’t be surprising given that he apparently is the nephew of Grammy award winner, Roger Miller.
Kendrick describes his sound as Texas Roots / Americana, and he has become a pretty much a master of it, so far as I can tell. His style features mellow but articulate acoustic guitar, in a fairly minimalist context, along with sincere and quietly contemplative vocals.
Ambiance wise, the songs on this album would not have seemed out of place on the classic soundtracks of films like “Every Which Way But Loose” (which featured hits from Eddie Rabbitt and Mel Tillis.) They are just very professional and have the feel of someone that has been around the block a few times. Texas Sagebrush is very authentic and evokes memories of the last era of pre-popcommercialization of the country sound. This isn’t to say that the music itself is dated though. What a Pretty Day retains the artful authenticity while demonstrating appeal to mainstream contemporary audiences. Rebecca White’s stellar vocals combine the best of indie folk and country elements. At times on this album I even found myself questioning whether what I was listening to was a Greenwich Village coffee house folk tune or a country western song.
Just about anyone who hears this music will instantly recognize it as being in the top-tier of its genre.